As technology advances, I have found myself thinking about all the skills that future generations will never know. They won’t get to experience the heart-stopping thrill that came from snooping on your fellow human as they talked to another person ‘privately.’

I am of course, talking about the landline telephone.

A teal/green owl that says

Imagine this scenario – you need to make a telephone call while at home after school. Instead of grabbing a smart phone, you have to walk across the house to find a phone. If you’re lucky, someone hung up the cordless receiver once they were done. If you were not lucky, you had to commence an hour-long search of the entire house that would end with you under the couch, wondering how the person before you managed to leave the phone there.

Siblings are the worst. And the best. It’s very confusing.

Once you located the receiver, you would turn it on. It’s at this point you expect to hear an annoying dial tone – but what if that dial tone didn’t come on? Instead, you hear voices. One of those voices belongs to someone in your home, the other could be a stranger to you. You have mere seconds to decide what to do. Either hang up the phone and earn a spot in heaven, or… listen to every single word.

An eternity in hell could turn out to be fun.

I always chose to listen. Blackmailing your siblings for their share of dessert or allowance was a skill that was heralded in my day. (Just writing ‘in my day’ solidifies that I am now solidly mid-life.) However, it wasn’t easy to listen without getting caught. You had to develop very specific skills to avoid being detected.

Breathing. Not too deep or too often. Breathing could very easily be heard on the other receivers. Even covering the mouthpiece wouldn’t help, the other parties would hear the rustle on the plastic and instantly know someone was snooping. You instead had to take short breaths as infrequently as possible.

If you didn’t feel faint, you were breathing too much.

Coughing. Every single time you found yourself listening in on a conversation, you would be immediately overcome with the need to cough. Not just your average short, quiet cough to clear your throat. No! Suddenly you would need to let loose a cough that sounded as if you had been smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for 60 years.

Once the lungs were mastered, you moved onto the final skill.

Tuck and hide. This required you to find a small, dark, out-of-the-way location with absolutely no background noise. Even a cricket chirping at an inopportune moment would alert the other parties to a spy in their midst. This would then lead to the Wanderers. Both parties on the line would begin to walk around their homes, looking for the other phone receivers. The Wanderers did this slowly and methodically, carrying on a completely normal conversation so that you did not know you were soon to be caught.

The Wanderers did not stop until all spare phones were located.

Once the Wanderers were on the move, you had only two options left open to you. Option one, come out of hiding and risk returning the receiver to its home, hopefully avoiding the Wanderer at the same time. This method was most effective in large homes with carpeting to soundproof your movements.

Option two was to come out of hiding and hang up the phone line, leaving it near you – but also not near you – while you waited for the Wanderer’s arrival. This method required you to have a cover activity at the ready, like reading a book.

The Wanderer would be instantly suspicious upon finding you in scenario two. The phone was close to you, meaning you could have been listening. However, the phone was also not close to you, meaning you may have been just been reading a book the entire time – as suggested by the pose you were found in. The Wanderer then had to rely on your facial expression to decide the matter.

It is not easy to look completely innocent as your heart beats wildly within your chest, trying to fool someone who lives with you every day and knows all of your tics. You’ve spent the entire phone call scrunched up into a ball, hiding, breathing so infrequently that you cannot even remember your name – let alone how to control your facial muscles.

Those who chose option two were members of an elite group.

Thanks to technology, I will never again get the satisfaction of seeing the play of emotions on a loved one’s face as they realized I may have actually graduated to the ninja level of eavesdropping skills… and there’s nothing they can do to prove it.


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46 replies on “The skill set that was lost to technology…

  1. I actually remember party lines. Our ring was one and a half. If the phone rang just once it was for the neighbor down the road. My grandmother was an expert at listening in on their conversations, and it was such a sport to her that she would even turn down the volume on her soap opera.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We live in Dubai where all voice over internet is blocked so we have a landline in the sheer hope that one day it might ring with news from the homeland, but sadly it never does. If we want to speak to anyone we use the package on our mobile phone as it’s cheaper than using the landline #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, I remember those days! When I was a kid, we had “party lines” that had nothing to do with actual parties. In our case, 3 households shared one telephone line. That meant that sometimes you picked up the phone to make a call, and your neighbor was already on the phone talking to someone else. You had to wait until your neighbor was finished with their call to make yours! I have to admit, I sometimes acted like I was hanging up, but actually snooped on my neighbors!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I could have sworn that I already commented on this because I remember reading it. It must have been in my sleep. . . I was asking my Husband last night if he thought if we dialed 0 we would still get an operator? #GlobalBlogging.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We still have a landline. Luckily, when I was younger we only had the3 one phone in the house, so no listening on conversations. My current house has 3 extensions, but we only get rung by cold callers and scammers these days. And my mum. The one thing I do miss about the old days is the lovely telephone table complete with box for money that we had by the phone. A whole industry lost to smartphones there too! #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Do you know, I miss the art of a landline – if you can call it that. I totally agree with you – in this generation of smartphones, one won’t ever be able to understand and appreciate the joys and perils of old style technology x #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You brought back memories. As for me I have always hated the phone to be honest. Hated talking to friends on the phone from home. Hated talking to family from college, Hated talking on the phone at work and tend not to know where my mobile is half the time . #Globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We still have a landlline but it’s only there for incoming calls. We hardly ever use it to make a call as we use our smart phones. Both our kids at least no how to use the landline to make a call but I think using our smart phones is just so convenient. Even with those we don’t make calls but prefer sending whatsapp messages #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ha yes, that’s definitely a lost skill set. We only ever had one phone but I do remember waiting outside phone boxes pretending not to listen to the person in the box while I was waiting to make my call. It was great entertainment if they ended up arguing on the phone and I had to stand there all ‘nonchalant’ pretending I couldn’t hear a thing.
    #mixitup

    Liked by 1 person

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